Google is building a software keyboard for use on the iPhone and other iOS devices, reports Casey Newton at the Verge -- though it's not yet clear if it will be released to consumers.
Why would the company be interested in making a keyboard for its archrival? Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It’s not as weird as it may sound. Google does, of course, make plenty of apps for the iPhone already, for everything from maps to its many Google Drive applications, that feed directly into popular services that millions already use. According to Newton, this keyboard would serve a similar purpose by incorporating Google’s search engine directly into the keyboard. That would be convenient for the vast majority of people who prefer to use Google for searches.
It would also give the company yet another point of contact with consumers. Google has an undeniable lead in the search game, but that business is changing significantly as people have started using their phones to search, rather than their computers.
Google feels the effects of that in a couple ways. For one, mobile ads don’t cost as much as desktop ads and therefore deliver lower returns for Google. While the firm isn’t exactly in trouble, having pulled in most of the $21.3 billion in revenue that its parent company Alphabet reported last month, this shift is still a point of concern for Google.
The other issue is that app use has increased, decreasing the mobile searches overall. As Newton reported, as people turn more to apps, they’re using search engines less often. It’s pretty normal behavior for someone to search for “Twitter” or “Facebook” rather than navigating directly to the site on a desktop. But if someone’s on their phone, it’s likely that they’ll just tap on the dedicated app rather than going to the mobile Web version of those sites. The same is true for review websites such as Yelp or travel sites such as Expedia.
Building search directly into the keyboard, however, could help Google boost mobile searches just by making a search super-convenient. Newton reported that Google’s also looking at incorporating other features such as GIF and image searches, which would add even more value to the program.
Apple started allowing third-party keyboards on the iPhone from iOS 8, opening its user base to a number of smaller companies that make keyboards with features that Apple doesn't offer in its stock keyboard. Adding a new keyboard does require users to do a little bit of fiddling with their settings, but many companies such as Swype have reported a significant boost in users since Apple changed its policies.